The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

blue book cover with eyes

BIBLIO: Ages 2004 (reprint), Scribner. 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0743273565

This time old classic is revered by readers of all ages. The complicated plot revolves around wealth, love, and secrets. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young and hopeful man that works in the business world but would rather be a writer. He moves into a small home in West Egg, the up and coming societal housing of Long Island. His neighbor is the mysterious, eccentric, and fabulously connected Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin Daisy marries a college sweetheart, Tom Buchanan, loaded with old money and a great reputation as an ex-polo player, and lives just across the river in East Egg. The story spins out of control as the three main characters interact. Nick’s admiration and pity for Jay, Jay’s loneliness and obsession for Daisy, his old flame, and Daisy’s need for security and desperation in looking for an escape, all play into the human condition and draws the reader in.

This novel is set in the roaring 1920’s and while fictional reflects plenty about the slang, the fashions, the corrupt underworld, and the rich culture. Nick describes his encounters at Jay’s summer night extravaganzas, Tom’s second life of flirtations, with his mistress Myrtle, and booze in the city, and his own simple life getting twisted into this lush lifestyle. With plenty of tragic turns and enthralling confrontations this book is a must read.

I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up for boys and girls. This novel is a great introduction into the literature of the time and a peek into the American canon. I would recommend this book as a classroom read, as many students have already experienced. It looks into strong themes like fidelity, wealth, desire, facades, and dreams.

Flora the Flamingo

Flora the Flamingo by Molly Idle

girl and flamingo book cover

BIBLIO: 2013, Chronicle Books LLC, Ages 3 to 7, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-1-4521-1006-6

Flora and the Flamingo is a charming picturebook created by former DreamWorks animator Molly Idle. It is about a girl, named Flora, trying to copy the graceful flamingo in it’s complicated dance. The flamingo suspects she is doing so and he contorts himself in a way that causes Flora to lose her balance and tumble to the ground when she tries to mimic him. Flora is upset and embarrassed in her clumsiness and she is sad that the flamingo was so mean. Realizing he had made her feel that way the flamingo laments and helps her to her feet. Knowing that all she wanted to do was dance the flamingo shows her his dance and they dance a smooth and complimentary duet together. They finish their dance with a splashy finale and a bow.
There is a the catch. This book has no words, so the plot summary above is just one interpretation of the book. A reader will bring their own experiences to the story with them. Each one will interpret this story differently from their classmates much like any other book but it is especially emphasized in this picturebook because it is all up to the reader’s imagination. This is a great book to use when examining narratives in the classroom. It can also be used for a writing exercises. It allows for a lot of discussion about making friends and special talents.
As an author Idle tells the story solely through pictures. Molly Idle’s style is as unique and distinguishable as it can get. Her layered colored pencil sketches show a lot of dimension and flawless blending . As this book unfolds, like her other illustrated works, the reader is immersed in a whimsy, inviting, and especially in this case, humorous world of fantasy. As challenging as this can be, the Caldecott​ honor winner pulled it off through the use of several common illustration techniques.

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Rules by Cynthia Lord

fish and rubber duck book cover

BIBLIO: 2006 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 10 and up, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-439-44382-2

​Rules are essential for living a normal life in society. So what happens when you straddle the line between? Catherine struggles with trying to fit in and protecting her autistic brother, David, from the very same people. Not having very many friends Catherine is eager to meet the girl who moves in next door. She meets Kristi, the seemingly perfect girl next door and hopes that they can be cool best friends together. Reluctantly she realizes that Kristi is just like the bully Ryan and doesn’t understand David and judges their family for his strange antics. David is the sweet little brother that tends to act inappropriately in normal contexts, so Catherine makes him rules, which he loves to follow. Catherine babysits him and we find though she dislikes the difficulty of his disability she wouldn’t change a thing about him. She also expresses her need for attention from her busy parents, who when not working, are always focused on David.
Due to Kristi’s reaction to David Catherine doesn’t tell Kristi about her new friend Jason, a boy from OT (occupational therapy), who spends his life mute and in a wheelchair.Catherine connects to Jason by drawing him communication cards and quickly sees how intelligent he is, especially with a broader vocabulary. While Jason and Catherine seem like an unusual pair the reader sees how sensitive they are to each other’s experiences, and how normal their relationship is; though Jason’s disability does cause a few squalls between them as Catherine still tries to define her place in society.
​The book culminates at the end with the community center dance where Catherine breaks her rules, confesses her true self to Kristi, and dances with Jason. Ultimately Catherine learns to love her brother and their odd interactions and to admit her feelings about Jason and face the truth about Kristi. Cynthia Lord brings up the very real stigma surrounding people with disabilities and urges the reader to sympathize with them and their caretakers by bringing the reader into very real scenarios and using emotions that are easy to relate to. This book is great for exposing children to a reality they may not understand completely, reading this makes them less like Kristi and Ryan and more like Catherine.


Angelfish by Laurence Yep

Angelfish book cover

BIBLIO: 2001, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Putnams Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 0-399-23041-6

Yep’s novel Angelfish is a captivating tale about a Chinese-American girl Robin. This charming story uses the archetypal story of the Beauty and the Beast to create the storyline and subplot of the book. Robin is a young ballet dancer who has gotten the role of Beauty in the upcoming recital. She dances with her friends Amy, Leah, and Thomas, her counterpart the Beast.

On their way home Thomas teases Robin and she throws her bag at him but instead breaks the storefront window of The Dragon Palace, the pet fish store. Rather than getting grounded and having to give up the recital Robin agrees to work for the surly manager, Mr. Tsow (Cao).

Upon working for Mr. Tsow, Robin is convinced she has met the real Beast. When she tells Grandmother about this awful old man she is reminded that most people are turned bitter by experience, not born that way. Robin reflects on the story of the ballet and vows to find out why Mr.Tsow has turned so sour and uses her experiences in the fish store in her dancing.She notices that Mr.Tsow has a hidden kindness which he shows in particular to his angelfish.

In her search for the humanity inside of Mr.Tsow Robin learns more about China’s history and discovers Mr.Tsow’s dancing fame and helps her Beast rediscover his love for the art.

This is a coming of age tale that shows compassion, heritage, and determination. This book brings up some serious topics such as racism, dark parts of history, gambling, and the effort needed to be part of a family (two busy parents) in a way that is true but easy to comprehend opening up a wide range of discussions.

A great addition to a classroom setting as a way to explore different cultures in a fun way and a great read for kids in general, especially those who have very specific interests such as ballet and fish.

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